Today: Harry Bernstein, who at 96, achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a famous writer.
From the time he was 11 years old Harry hoped to become a famous and successful writer. In pursuit of that dream Harry wrote at least 40 novels and numerous short stories and articles, little of which ever sold. But in 1981, one of his novels finally got published, but it sold so badly, it was the end of him ever becoming a novelist.
Over the years, Harry had earned a modest living as a script reader for MGM, Columbia and other Hollywood studios. He was proud to have recommended John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Grapes of Wrath,” which 20th Century Fox made into a highly successful movie in 1940 starring Henry Fonda. Harry also joked about a massive manuscript that arrived at the start of his weekend as he was relaxing. Glancing at it, he thought it was just another trashy romantic novel. It was “Gone with the Wind,” which became an epic film and Harry got fired.
But the turning point for Harry attaining his lifelong dream came in 2002, after Ruby, his wife of 67 years, and the mother of their son and daughter passed away from Leukemia. He was lost in his grieving and desperately needed something to occupy his time. In 2003, Harry turned to his old typewriter and at the age of 93 began to write again. But this time it was not a novel but the story of his early life. It was titled, “The Invisible Wall: A Love Story That Broke Barriers.”
Harry was born in 1910, the 5th of seven children, to a desperately poor Jewish couple in England that had escaped the pogroms of Poland, in which thugs beat and killed Jews. In England the dead-end street where the Bernsteins lived was strictly divided by religion. Christians lived on one side and Jews on the other.
Some Christian children taunted Harry and other Jews as “Christ killers” and tried to beat them up. Meanwhile the Bernstein home was a disaster. His father was an alcoholic who would strike out at his children and who drank most of his wages. Harry’s loving mother was protective of her children and she would sometimes beg for food scraps from the local shops to feed the family.
The title of Harry’s book came from an incident with his sister Lily. Like a story out of “Romeo and Juliet,” she secretly fell in love with a Christian man across the street. But when they got married, instead of rejoicing Lily’s happiness, with heartache her mother declared her daughter dead.
Harry’s manuscript received critical acclaim from publishers, who were amazed he would tackle such a big a project so late in life. But no-one published it. Harry sent it to Random House in London, where for over a year it lay in a pile of unread manuscripts until an editor began reading it and couldn’t put it down. She gave it to Kate Elton, a publishing director who found it irresistible and saw its potential success. In 2006, she offered Harry a 5,000 pound advance (about $9,000) which he gratefully accepted.
In 2007, 97 year-old Harry Bernstein’s book sold so well, that it captured nearly 10% of the British market alone. Suddenly Harry had the attention of reporters and book reviewers from prominent media outlets that he had always hoped for and he was a celebrity. Harry began writing again this time with a huge marketplace waiting for him. In 2008, the 98 year-old published “The Dream,” an additional memoir, which picks up his story in 1922, when he was 12 years-old.
This led to “The Golden Willow: The Story of a Lifetime in Love,” published in 2009 in which 99 year-old Harry tells the story of his 67 year marriage and love affair with Ruby. In 2010, during his 100th birthday celebration at the Park Plaza Restaurant in New York, Harry announced to family and friends and the media that he was writing a 4th book of his family saga. But on June 3rd, 2011 Harry passed away at the age of 101. However, the wonderful news to his many readers is that he had finished his book, “What Happened to Rose,” and it will be published in 2012.
Success Tip of the Week:
If you’ve been thinking you’re too old to attain your dreams just think of Harry Bernstein and know something wonderful may yet be in your future.
To learn more about Harry, please see “Harry Bernstein, Writer Who Gained Fame at 95, Dies at 101. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/07/books/harry-bernstein-writer-who-gained-fame-at-96-dies-at-101.html and “Harry Bernstein” from the British newspaper, The Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/culture-obituaries/books-obituaries/8562229/Harry-Bernstein.html
In the next KazanToday:
Albertina Sisulu, the mother of South Africa’s liberation movement.